Convergence can be a great thing. For instance, grapes and sugar converge to make wine, chocolate and peanut butter converge to make Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and John, Paul, George, and Ringo “came together” (or converged) to create the Beatles. In the business communications world, convergence, which in this case Merriam Webster defines as “the merging of distinct technologies, industries, or devices into a unified whole,” isn’t new.
First, voice or data convergence emerged, followed by computer and telephony convergence (more commonly called computer telephony integration, or CTI), which opened the door to a world of other related technology integrations. 2007 was a year for the mother of all convergences – bringing together personal digital assistants (PDAs) and mobile phones to create smartphones, with Apple’s iPhone at the head of the pack.
I’ve long been a proponent of technology convergence—this began when I advocated for voicemail to become unified messaging, integrating various messaging modalities. Naturally, some convergences sounded good at the time. However they didn’t necessarily hit the mark, such as the integration of unified messaging and interactive voice response (IVR) to become what we called “voice processing” and later “unified communications” (before what we think of today as UC). While both IVR and unified messaging involved voice processing, the buyers and markets differed, leaving little synergy between the technologies.
Today’s unified communications is the pinnacle of convergence, combining telephony and voice, messaging, conferencing, collaboration, video, etc., enabling end users to switch between communication channels and modes.
When new technologies emerge, they’re typically standalone and provide new capabilities that potentially add value to existing tools and technologies. Team collaboration and video were once standalone technologies but have become integral components of unified communication and collaboration (UCC) suites and offerings. The same is true for contact center technologies. For example, workforce optimization, as well as digital channels like chat and email, were initially separate and standalone but have become part of full contact center suites and offerings in many cases.
Many other technologies have been integrated with suites or platforms, and types of convergence of capabilities are becoming more common. Here are three examples that I’ve been touting and following for a while:
1. UCaaS + CCaaS + CPaaS
Without getting into religious wars about best-of-breed versus single-suite solutions, it’s clear that integrating UCaaS with CCaaS provides many benefits to both contact center agents and knowledge workers. The ability to reach out to subject matter experts (SMEs) outside of the contact center helps agents get the information they need to quickly and efficiently solve customers’ issues, increasing customer satisfaction, and loyalty. The expert can assist the agent in the background via instant messaging, or if needed, the agent can bring everyone together and collaborate to solve customers’ issues swiftly and successfully.
Additionally, creating a collaborative contact center by integrating contact center, team collaboration, messaging, and video capabilities enables agents, customers, and SMEs to collaborate in a shared space and share information to help expedite issue resolution. For example, if a customer sends a video of a broken appliance or the damage to their car after an accident, and an agent shares how-to videos or walks them through the proper way to fill out a loan application, the agent can solve customer issues much faster.
Add communications platform as a service (CPaaS) to this mix, and a wealth of new applications and integrations to simplify workflows and create a better user experience exists. CPaaS makes it easy to integrate communication capabilities into applications, business processes, and workflows using cloud-based APIs. For example, organizations can add click-to-chat or click-to-video to websites for quick access to agents or experts. They can also add bots and virtual agents to simplify self-service applications without the need to interact with an agent.
2. Contact Center + Customer Relationship Management
I’ve wondered for years why contact center and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms and markets have been kept separate. Every contact center product and service integrates with several CRM services, typically Salesforce, Zendesk, Microsoft Dynamics 365, as well as others. While several CRM vendors offer digital channels for customer support interactions, Zendesk was probably the first to offer voice and more complete contact center capabilities as part of its CRM capabilities, and Salesforce followed suit by introducing Service Cloud Voice (see related No Jitter article
). The convergence of the contact center and CRM capabilities by the CRM vendors can potentially disrupt the contact center space and create significant competition to the traditional contact center and CCaaS vendors.
3. Service, Sales, Marketing
CRM vendors also anticipated the value of service, sales, and marketing convergence. Josh Bean, senior director, product marketing at Zendesk, noted during a recent analyst event, customer experience isn’t only about customer support—it encompasses all the interactions a customer may have with a business—including those with sales and support teams. “Salespeople have many of the same issues as support people,” Bean said. Bean also explained how Zendesk got into sales after customers repeatedly asked the company to expand its service product for salespeople. “The problems we help solve in service are the same problems our customers experience in sales,” Bean said. To that end, Zendesk acquired Base CRM, which is the basis for Zendesk Sell.
Salesforce also offers products for sales, marketing, and customer service. Its acquisition of team collaboration leader Slack should lead to an additional layer of convergence. Selligent, a marketing automation platform known for its marketing cloud service, also saw the writing on the wall and introduced Selligent Experience Cloud, highlighting how converged sales and marketing software as a service (SaaS) offerings can benefit customers.
Several contact center vendors, such as Genesys and Five9, have also taken steps to add marketing as part of their overall customer experience offerings. I expect to see contact center, CRM, and marketing SaaS vendors offer full suites of sales, marketing, and service capabilities, highlighting the benefits of converged solutions for customers.
As technology continues to advance, convergence will continue. A couple of examples I foresee in the near future include:
In-store and online experiences: Do you ever wonder why you can’t get the same level of service while visiting a store as you can on a company’s website or by calling its contact center? Either no one’s around to help, or an employee is uninformed and has to find an expert. Wouldn't it be nice to have virtual access to experts while in a store, with collaboration and sharing capabilities that improve the shopping experience? While some banks have implemented virtual tellers and video kiosks in branches, and some hotels have deployed virtual receptionists—virtual shopping assistants haven’t caught on yet. I expect this to change, as stores will deploy video assistants with two-way video and collaboration capabilities. The video assistants can be located anywhere and provide the expertise needed for improved shopping experiences.
Different channels and devices converging for a seamless customer experience: We’ve been talking about omnichannel contact centers for years, but the ability to seamlessly move from one channel to another remains elusive both inside and outside of the contact center. While every contact center vendor will tell you it has omnichannel capabilities, and UC vendors will tout the ability to “seamlessly” transition from a chat to audio to a video call, real world usage is still somewhat limited. Yes, the technology exists in many cases, but actual ubiquity of omnichannel and channel switching is still a ways off.
As new technologies emerge that fill a gap or add new capabilities, they eventually converge into larger overall suites or product offerings. What technologies or markets do you expect to converge that haven’t already? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
This post is written on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.